The Malta-based European Union Asylum Agency (EUAA) is being investigated by the EU’s anti-fraud watchdog OLAF for internal issues and alleged failure to react to human rights violations, according to reports.
Documents in the Greek media indicate that the agency is failing to follow up on the reports of mistreatment of asylum seekers, by using a very narrow interpretation of its obligations in such situations.
The EU’s anti-fraud watchdog, OLAF, also confirmed with Greek news agency Solomon that it has launched an investigation into the EUAA, after completing an initial assessment of the allegations but refused to comment further to protect the integrity of the “ongoing” investigation.
It also emphasised that the decision to open an investigation did not imply that any persons or entities were responsible for irregularity or fraud. “OLAF fully respects the presumption of innocence,” the press office said.
Earlier in September, the Financial Times had reported that a complaint was filed by employees of the agency accusing the leadership of the EUAA of nepotism, the “fraudulent use of EU funds”, and the mishandling of harassment claims,
In an anonymous letter to the EU’s anti-fraud office, OLAF, and the EU’s highest institutions the employees complained that the agency had, among other things, hired people who were linked to “corruption cases publicly reported across Maltese media”
The EUAA is led by Executive Director Nina Gregori, who was appointed in 2019, to overhaul the agency’s battered reputation after her predecessor resigned amid harassment claims and an OLAF investigation. Earlier this year, the agency was renamed and its mandate bolstered.
In a written response to Solomon, the EUAA rejected the allegations and cast doubt on the motives of the employees who had filed the complaint. “The fact that they chose a public setting [to express their concerns] instead of making use of dedicated whistle-blowing channels, appears to speak to intent,” the response said.
The launch of the investigation follows a stream of complaints against the EUAA echoing those of the scandal-ridden EU border agency, Frontex. The border agency was also investigated by OLAF after its leadership was accused of fostering a toxic workplace culture and turning a blind eye to “pushbacks”.
The extent of mismanagement revealed by the OLAF report on Frontex went beyond what officials at the EU’s executive body, the European Commission, had initially played down as exceptional incidents. The report uncovered systemic governance failures, including an alleged cover-up of illegal pushbacks of asylum seekers from Malta’s search and rescue zone to Libya.